We are breaking through the window of the 21st century just when powerful white men who can’t spell as well as 12 year-olds are celebrating the fall of patriarchal socialism, and what they mistakenly think is the triumph of their capitalism. Actually, we are but beginning a new cycle of world struggle. The class struggle between capitalism and the oppressed has only grown larger, more polarized, spilling across old national and racial lines, a world war of a new type. It’s easier to talk about it by first taking in the hit that culture gives us.
Ten years ago a hollywood movie named Blade Runner came and went: a modest science-fiction flick, it won some critical acclaim for director Ridley Scott, but wasn’t a box office success. Since then, that grade B action film has become an unofficial presence in the larger dimension of politics. Because it resonates with a suppressed truth about amerikkka. Set in the darkly fictional Los Angeles of twenty-five years into the future, Blade Runner contains a take on amerikkka and its non-future that unexpectedly hit a cultural nerve. Now, the phrase “Blade Runner scenario” has crept into mainstream political vocabulary, into white economic conversation, newspaper columns, even books.
On its surface, Blade Runner is a stereotype chase film, cops and criminals, only set in a future amerikkka. It’s that setting, though. In Blade Runner’s L.A. even nature has darkened: not the dry sunny freeway days we know, but constant rain and constant street crowds, overcast skies, wet streets. Amerikkka is a Pacificized babel of many races and cultures, a jumble with no set way of life, diet or dress. Standup bars in the middle of pedestrian-jammed streets sell Asian fast food to the working stiffs, and the common language is no longer straight english but a pidgin or a fangala with lots of gestures. An overstrained and tired white men’s government tries to keep some kind of public order. No one even mentions what nation it is—that no longer means anything.
Above it all tower the ultra-modern skyscrapers and floating anti-gravity advertising airships of the multinational corporations. Their violent wars over precious raw materials now take place on the outer planets of the solar system, where the minerals are. These wars are fought for them by artificially-produced humans called replicants. Some replicants are workers, miners, or entertainers, while others with their super-human strength and reflexes are designed to be proxy soldiers in the wars between human corporations. As a safety factor for the masters, replicants are built with a short life span and all replicants are banned from the earth’s surface outside of the laboratories of the corporations that own them.
The film’s hero is Dekker, an LAPD detective (played by hollywood good-guy Harrison Ford, aka Indiana Jones). Dekker knows he’s the best at his job, but he also knows that this job is nothing more than being a full-time killer. For Dekker is a “Blade Runner,” a special cop whose assignment is to track down and summarily execute escaped slaves, i.e. replicants. (Stripped of the hi-tech trappings, replicants are only a genetically-created race of slaves). An escaped combat team of four replicants hijack their ship in space and make it to amerikkka, desperately looking for a way to have their lifespans normalized. Dekker’s hunt for them, which ends with all four dead (at the end, the last replicant spares Dekker’s life without saying why), is the movie’s story. Or is it?
However much political economists like Robert B. Reich feel obliged to deny the plausibility of the pessimistic fantasy of the “Blade Runner scenario,” it still tugs at them. It keeps being thought of, like a burr stuck in the mind, because this B-movie contains in not-too-disguised forms the truth about amerikkka’s neo-colonial future that white people want to keep secret even from themselves. It can be dealt with today only as fiction, as fantasy.
In deconstructing Blade Runner we learn why these secrets (which are only the neo-colonial reality) are both so intriguing and so dangerous that they must be buried.
Blade Runner’s future amerikkka is, quite obviously, no longer a white settler nation. Those who run things are still—by historical momentum—white men, but the society they try to hold together is no longer predominantly white or affluent. The culture on the street level is more Third World than it is euro-amerikan. The vision is of the end of amerikkka. This is the side of the “Blade Runner scenario” that attracted so much unofficial attention. But it isn’t the only compelling thing about it.
Close in on what is there but unrecognized in the movie: the violated subtext of class and the class structure, as played out in terms of gender, race and nation. This is actually what is at the unspoken center of the scenario.
There is no visible basic economic production in the movie, hardly a mention of it even. Although there are masses of vendors and office people, hi-technicians and street survivors. By implication, basic production (and the primary working class) has been removed not just off-screen but out of society altogether. The dirtiest and most dangerous work seems to be done off-earth by a lesser race. “Real” people no longer do that work, and the major class division is between their society and the race of less-human beings who do. Sound at all familiar?
It isn’t that this film is any brilliant work of art. What’s happening is that amerikkka is under tension, twisting between immovable colonial past and inexorable neo-colonial future. This society is stressed to the max with neo-colonial transformation whose full meaning is still being officially denied. So this suppressed tension—which charges the entire culture now with a certain radical voltage—gets discharged almost at random in popular art, in music, in everything imaginative we do.
And people are drawn unconsciously to the cracks in the censorship of denial. That’s why you get a white kid wearing a Public Enemy T-shirt in “Terminator 2,” at the same moment Afrikan people are (just like those fictional replicants) declared illegal life forms and are starting to be killed off.
That’s the second thing that’s missing in Blade Runner’s vision of multiculturalized amerikkka—the Afrikan population has vanished. There are masses of Latins and europeans and Asians, but no Afrikans except the occasional extra, the face in the crowd. In the film, even the slave race of replicants is white. The Color Black has been eliminated in fantasy, in “innocently” imagining the future. Truths that cannot be told yet in public, that still must be denied, leak out in imagination, in art.
And, as usual in hollywood, women are present but not as “real” people. There are women characters (every hollywood movie needs women as props to enhance the male leads), but by a subconscious stroke of a scriptwriter's pen in that movie they are all replicants, not “real” humans. The first is a member of the escaped combat team hiding and making her living as a stripper. When Dekker tracks her down, she uses her superior strength to knock him down but only so she can flee. Dekker recovers in time to empty his gun into her back and kill her as she runs down the mall corridor (this white guy is the hero, remember, that we’re supposed to identify with). Dekker kills two escaped women slaves and “falls in love” with the last replicant woman, has sex with her, and as the film ends leaves town with her as his exclusive property (i.e. “romance”).
When you watch the film in a theater there’s no uneasy stirring, no objections from the audience. It’s subliminally understood that oppressed women who escape control are menacing, so dangerous to “real” humans that they must be killed. Otherwise, Dekker wouldn’t be a “hero”, any more than any gestapo investigator was. Hollywood understands without articulating it that gender is really about class and property, too. Truths that cannot be told in public, that must be denied, leak out in art, in imagination. We’re talking about class, now.
There isn’t anything that unique about the movie. The same truths keep leaking out-largely unnoticed—in other artifacts of sharply changing culture. The television serial “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is popular with the neo-colonial generation precisely because it seems so integrated. Positively multicultural adventures. But look at the closed society of the starship more closely and the subtext says more about multiculturalism than we think. Although the commander is a white man, of course, there are three major parts played by Black actors. One is Jordy, the ship’s engineer, a blind man (as in physically sightless) who is mostly concerned with finding technical solutions to his superior’s problems (“Yes, we can do it, Captain!”) and who has no love life.
The other two characters played by Afrikan actors are actually aliens from two different non-human species (can you interpret that?). So all the characters played by Afrikan actors run around helping white commanders carry out their missions, and since they’re of different species they neither reproduce nor form a Black community. This is the same subliminal message as Blade Runner, although in multicultural drag—a future without an Afrikan population. If the mass culture keeps steady sending out this message, what does it mean?
Jump cut to present (which we never left, really).
The “Blade Runner scenario” is so darkly resonant for white men because it’s not about a maybe future, it’s about what is already going down in the fall of “white America” and the rise of a neo-colonized amerikkka already is becoming a postmodernist jumble, where some white men still run a neo-imperial class structure that is a paradox of modern affluence and human slavery, astonishing technical leaps and growing social barbarism. Akin to the ancient Greece of philosopher and slaves, but on a new and higher level. An empire of a new type. Let’s bring that paradox into focus.
What’s happening to the world is that the original class structure of 19th century industrial euro-capitalism as seen in England, the then-leading euro-capitalist nation, has only replicated itself in neo-colonialism—but on a world scale not a national scale, with every feature blown up in size a thousand times.
Industrial England then was like a horror-show of “free enterprise.” A hell with people wandering, driven off their lands and homes into industrial zones. Chaotic factories and crude workshops full of slave and semi-slave workers clothed in filthy rags, close to starvation. Many were homeless and sleeping in barracks or next to their machine on the factory floor, living briefly to be used up. This brutal class formation is falsely believed in the white mindset to have been modernized away, smoothed away by progress, but in reality has only been exported, spread and grown more entrenched.
The primitive sweatshops of the garment trade in London and New York never disappeared at all, but have only left the white metropolis and expanded a thousand-fold into Chinatown, El Paso, Haiti, Canton, Bangladesh, Morocco, and South Afrika. The concentrated industry that once made Manchester, England the first great industrial hell has now grown up and left its nuclear family home in the metropolis for Bombay, Korea, Jo’burg, Mexico City, and Brazil. And what were then small pockets of capitalist privilege, green and pleasant upper-class and middle-class neighborhoods in a London or a Boston, have grown to the size of parasitic countries and even semicontinents at the center of a patriarchal world empire of a new type. A center now in crisis.
Classes that once were white or european or male only are now world classes, multinational and in a surface way multicultural. The very high German techno-fetishism of Mercedes-Benz masks the reality that the chromium metal in the alloys are produced by Afrikan workers, that the cars are assembled in part by Turkish emigrant workers, and that Kuwaiti capitalists own one-third of all Mercedes Benz stock.
Much has changed in a century and a half, of course. The cheapened mass production and distribution of commodities has created a dedicated capitalist world. Some sophisticated commodities are universally available in a distorted way. Mexican women in the mass proletarian squatter colonias outside El Paso can have walkmans but not running water. In Brazil, 72% of all households have television sets, even though most cannot afford medical care or enough education to read a book—and the right of all men to kill the women they own for any infractions is upheld by law.
To gain an overview of this global class structure, we can start with Egyptian economist Samir Amin’s “Class Structure of the Contemporary Imperialist System.”76 While Amin’s table is a static view of classes in the euro-centric sense, a surface look, it shows how these classes exist in a world context of center and periphery, oppressor nations and oppressed nations:
|Classes||% of world total of economically active adults||% of world total world income|
|Bourgeoisie & upper middle classes
(executives, businessmen, etc.)
|Salaried middle class
(Amin calls this category of white collar-employees—such as office managers and state civil service staff—the “proletarianized petty-bourgeoisie”)
|Labor aristocracy(Amin calls this class of foremen, skilled craftsmen in white unions, the “superior working class”)||4%||10%|
(factory laborers, migrant farm workers, domestics, service employees like messengers and porters, street vendors and day laborers—or “inferior working class” in Amin’s terminology)
|Classes||% of world total of economically active adults||% of world total world income|
|Native bourgeoisie & upper middle classes||1%||5%|
|Salaried middle class||6%||2%|
|Landowning farmers, including landlords||4%||2%|
Amin's class breakdown is only approximate, of course, because he had to use capitalist census data. The breakdown into classes is simplified, to say the least. It is also two decades old in terms of data, and while it is still useful it doesn't reflect the massive population shift in the Imperialist Periphery from the peasant countryside to the cities, and the growth of all urban classes. This population total does not equal 100% because we omitted his category of official unemployed (4%), which is only misleading. Total world income percentages do not equal 100% because of rounding off.
While Samir Amin believed that capitalist economics could only be understood by seeing them as parts of one imperialist system uniting the periphery and the center/metropolis, he doesn’t believe as we do that national economies and national class structures are being absorbed into one world class formation. Nevertheless, when we get to the bottom line of his work the neo-colonial world order comes into class focus on a larger-than-national basis.
The central feature of imperialism during the colonial period was that it created entire parasitic societies by forcibly polarizing the world into oppressor and oppressed nations, and this continues to be true under neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism is, incredibly enough, in some ways even more parasitic in its effects than colonialism was. This is driving world political contradictions to a new level.
In the neo-imperial metropolis, all classes of citizens receive a greater percentage of the world’s income than their share in the population, as Samir Amin shows. An important exception we must note—because Amin’s table doesn’t recognize it—are those peoples in the metropolis that capitalism has marginalized and set aside from its economy to be exterminated. Capitalists and their upper middle class managers and technicians are only 8% of the world’s population (capitalists alone are under 1%), but take 45% of all world income.
This explains why there’s an emerging pattern of global yuppie culture: of privileged people who speak the same computer languages, own similar property, have identical financial skills, who wear the same Armani or Perry Ellis clothes to work for the same multinational corporations in different continents, and whose children may well intermarry across old racial, national, and gender lines. “Class is everything.”
And, on the other hand, why there’s an opposite class pattern emerging of homeless Afrikan street children being targets of violent elimination not only in the slums of Brazil, but around the globe—in Panama City, Nairobi, Kenya, in islamic Sudan, and in Brooklyn, too. This civilization that has space walks above the earth and genetically altered cells reinjected to fight tumors, is with equal sophistication setting it up for surplus Afrikan children to be hunted like game animals. Or do you still think it’s all coincidences?
When we said earlier that the commodity life of the capitalist system is nothing like we think it is, that’s equivalent to saying that the class structure is nothing like we think it is, also. To a remarkable extent, the class analysis of 19th century industrial euro-capitalism done by Karl Marx is still true today, although this can only be grasped by overturning euro-centrism (which in this instance can be discovered as being co-terminus with patriarchy) and seeing, with fresh eyes, the world as a whole.
As useful as the broad statistical foundation given us by Amin is, suggesting many things, its limitations become evident once we confront Black Genocide or the oppression of women as property. The question is not a mere inequality between occupational groupings, some richer, some poorer, as reformers like to believe. The imperialist class structure is actually a living machinery, of clashing relationships to production, whose essential fuel is capital extracted by genocide, by slavery and dispossession and looting on a mass scale. Not as dead history, but right now.
We have to bring up into full view the hidden center of the capitalist machinery—the processes that Marx first scientifically identified as primitive accumulation and the link between semi-slavery and “slavery pure and simple.”
Our primary question is, who is the modern proletariat and what role does it play as a class? The answer is simple: it is primarily women, children, and alien labor. Those who are colonized. The modern proletariat or industrial working class, which is both among the most oppressed and the most productive class that supports the structure of capitalist society by its labor, is not and has never been gender-neutral or nationally self-contained. No matter how indignantly some men may scream at these words, this is a matter of historical record, of fact.
In its infancy, the first English factory system of the 18th century was like a chain of prison workhouses, whose semi-slave laborers were primarily women and enslaved children. English men, no matter how poor, resisted giving up what independence they had to become “like women.” A class attitude using gender, race and nation in a way that the dominant values of the British ruling class encouraged. British historian Christopher Hill reminds his reader that being a factory worker was so disrespectable a position back then that it virtually placed her outside society, as an alien, a non-citizen (the word “worker” today is supposed to make us think “him”, the blue collar unionized man in heavy industry, so we misunderstand economics and class). Hill wrote:
“We look back with twentieth-century preconceptions. After two hundred years of trade union struggle, wage labour has won a respected and self-respecting position in the community. But if we approach wage-labour from the seventeenth century, as men in fact did, we recall that the Levellers thought wage-labourers had forfeited their birthright as freeborn Englishmen, and should not be allowed to vote; that Winstanley thought wage-labourers had no share in their own country, and that wage labour should be abolished. This traditional attitude, together with the fact that many factories looked like workhouses, and were often consciously modelled on them (paupers too had been thought unworthy of the franchise by the Levellers) may help us to understand why independent craftsmen clung so hard to economically untenable positions; why the early Lancashire spinning factories were staffed so largely by women and pauper children, the latter of whom had no choice in the matter, and by Welsh and Irish laborers (Highlanders in Scotland), who lacked the English craftsman’s tradition of self-help and self-respect … .”77
Isn’t it typical that Hill, a “Marxist” historian, says that Welsh and Irish and Scotch men worked as women did in the early factories when English men still didn’t have to—because they supposedly “lacked the English craftsman’s tradition of self-help and self-respect”—but fails to mention that those non-English men were colonial subjects of England, then. In its very origins, the industrial proletariat was a colonized class, in which alien men without rights were equal to women and children without rights.
That Oxford professor “just doesn’t get it”, as the saying goes. On the very next paragraph of his book, after admitting that early English factory workers were primarily women and children, Hill reverts to discussing working people as “he”, “his”, “men”, and “workingmen.”
While professor Hill doesn’t admit the importance of children’s labor to capitalism, he does briefly tell of their exploitation in the early factory:
“Pauper children shipped north from London workhouses in order to save ratepayers the cost of their maintenance were particularly unprotected. From the age of seven children in factories had to work twelve to fifteen hours a day (or night), six days a week, ‘at best in monotonous jail, at worst in a hell of human cruelty’. ‘The tale never ended of fingers cut off and limbs crushed in the wheels.’ Foremen’s wages depended on the work they could get out of their charges. The story of these children is, as Professor Ashton mildly remarks, ‘a depressing one’.”78
This historic development of the modern capitalist proletariat, a class that is predominantly women and children, took place in Europe within the furnaces of what Karl Marx termed primitive accumulation. That is, the first accumulation of capital that allows the capitalist class to make investments, to first become itself. Their own mythology that capitalism derived its first stake through the would-be capitalist’s prudent savings and self-denial is, of course, about as real as Santa Claus. Marx, in his investigation of the inner workings of the capitalist system, identified primitive accumulation as “the expropriation of the immediate producers, i.e., the dissolution of private property based on the labor of its owner.”79 By which he meant the “free” looting and violent seizure of lands and slaves by capitalism that took place first inside Europe, and then outward in ever-widening circles of colonialism, in particular Indian and Afrikan slavery.
We know, of course, what Marx did not. That the process of primitive accumulation in Europe began with the “inner colony,” the enslavement of women and children as human property. In the long witchhunts from the 13th through the 18th centuries, in which millions of european women were terrorized and killed, the emerging capitalist nation-states established their ownership of women as men’s property. To do unwaged labor and to have their bodies used to reproduce still greater surpluses of cheap labor-power as the State willed it.
How natural, then, for women and children, who were not “real” human beings (just as those disposable replicants in Blade Runner), to be the primary labor force to be used up. And as industry began, a generalized violent primitive accumulation took hold in England, in which euro-capitalism dispossessed millions of peasants from their traditional farmlands (just as it did in Northern Mexico—aka California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado—in the 1830s–1870s, in South Afrika and Zimbabwe in the early 1900s, and Chile in the 1970s) to create both large commercial agricultural estates and masses of desperate, homeless wage-laborers to be hired cheaply. Historian Christopher Hill reminds his reader that the coming of industry has always been accompanied by a lowering of living standards for the oppressed classes, while the middle and upper classes benefited:
“In England the general price level rose five times between 1530 and 1640, wheat prices six times. This had a dual effect. First, since English prices lagged behind those of the Continent, there was a great stimulus to cloth exports in the years 1530 to 1550; and though the boom broke in the latter year, a considerable degree of prosperity continued.
“Second, there was a savage depression of the living standards of the lower half of the population, since food and fuel prices rose more sharply than those of other commodities. In the building industry real wages in the later sixteenth century were less than two-thirds of what they had been in 1510, and in the fifty years before the civil war they were less than half. The mass of the population was forced down to a diet of black bread. For those who possessed no land this was a catastrophe. For those with land but who produced little or nothing for the market, it meant that wives and children were forced to by-earning in the clothing industry. Some time between 1580 and 1617 the word ‘spinster’ acquired its modern sense of unmarried woman: for of course such a woman would have to spin. Competition was so great that female wages rose even less than male in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
“ … In the last two decades of the sixteenth century, and again in the depressed sixteen-twenties, preachers and pamphleteers talk of men, women and children dying of starvation in the streets of London.
“The conception of rising population, monetary inflation and declining real wages may be difficult for those to grasp who think in terms of modern economic models. But in this pre-industrial society much of the labor force was employed only part-time, much labour was semi-forced.”80
Hill, writing from the vantage point of Oxford and the metropolis, has the eurocentric view that this extreme exploitation was only what early capitalism had to do to get rolling. His words seem like irony to us today, since “men, women and children dying of starvation in the streets” is a very up-to-date and worldwide phenomenon. It has only been exported to the oppressed world. And those who have lived under Reagan and Thatcher have no trouble understanding “the conception of rising population, monetary inflation and declining real wages …”
“Semi-forced” labor and slavery is also a major phenomenon still on a world scale. Just ask the many thousands of Afrikan women slaves who are regularly bought and sold today, both for sex and unwaged labor, by their captors in the islamic Sudan (whose slavemaster government is the leading Afrikan ally of islamic Iran). Or the thousands of Thai women slaves in the Bangkok brothels for the Western-Japanese tourist industry.
The point here is that primitive accumulation has never stopped, was not just a beginning, and that it has a specific gender and national character. Today we use the phrase “wage slave” as self-deprecating humor, but in its origins it was meant literally: someone who was hired for a wage but was really a semi-slave. Marx described how the gender character of capitalist industry was intrinsic to its nature, moving from there to the hidden dependence of “veiled slavery” of the industrial proletariat on the naked slavery of the Afrikan slave trade:
“In England women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation. Hence nowhere do we find a more shameful squandering of human labour-power for the most despicable purposes than in England, the land of machinery …
“In so far as machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means of employing labourers of slight muscular strength, and those whose bodily development is incomplete, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children was, therefore, the first thing sought for by capitalists who used machinery. That mighty substitute for labor and laborers was forthwith changed into a means for increasing the number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the workman’s family, without distinction of age or sex.
“Machinery also revolutionises out and out the contract between the labourer and the capitalist, which formally fixes their mutual relations. Taking the exchange of commodities as our basis, our first assumption was that capitalist and labourer met as free persons, as independent owners of commodities; the one possessing money and means of production, the other labour-power. But now the capitalist buys children and young persons under age. Previously, the workman sold his own labour-power, which he disposed of nominally as a free agent. Now he sells wife and child. He has become a slave-dealer.
“The demand for children’s labour often resembles in form the inquiries for negro slaves, such as were formerly to be read among the advertisements in American journals. ‘My attention,’ says an English factory inspector, ‘was drawn to an advertisement in the local paper of one of the most important manufacturing towns of my district, of which the following is a copy: Wanted, 12 to 20 young persons, not younger than what can pass for 13 years. Wages, 4 shillings a week. Apply &c.’ The phrase ‘what can pass for 13 years,’ has reference to the fact, that by the Factory Act, children under 13 years may work only 6 hours. A surgeon officially appointed must certify their age. The manufacturer, therefore, asks for children who look as if they were already 13 years old. The decrease, often by leaps and bounds in the number of children under 13 years employed in factories, a decrease that is shown in an astonishing manner by the English statistics of the last 20 years, was for the most part, according to the evidence of the factory inspectors themselves, the work of the certifying surgeons, who overstated the age of the children, agreeably to the capitalist’s greed for exploitation, and the sordid trafficking needs of the parents. In the notorious district of Bethnal Green, a public market is held every Monday and Tuesday morning, where children of both sexes from 9 years of age upwards, hire themselves out to the silk manufacturers.”81 [ … ]
“With the development of capitalist production during the manufacturing period, the public opinion of Europe had lost the last remnant of shame and conscience. The nations bragged cynically of every infamy that served them as a means to capitalistic accumulation. Read, e.g., the naive Annals of Commerce of the worthy A. Anderson. Here it is trumpeted forth as a triumph of English statecraft that at the Peace of Utrecht, England extorted from the Spaniards by the Asiento Treaty the privilege of being allowed to ply the negro-trade, until then only carried on between Africa and the English West Indies, between Africa and Spanish America as well. England thereby acquired the right of supplying Spanish America until 1743 with 4,800 negroes yearly. This threw, at the same time, an official cloak over British smuggling. Liverpool waxed fat on the slave-trade.
“This was its method of primitive accumulation. And, even to the present day, Liverpool ‘respectability’ is the Pindar of the slave-trade which—compare the work of Aikin  already quoted—‘has coincided with the spirit of bold adventure which has characterized the trade of Liverpool and rapidly carried it to its present state of prosperity; has occasioned vast employment for shipping and sailors, and greatly augmented the demand for the manufactures of the country’ (p. 339). Liverpool employed in the slave-trade, in 1730, 15 ships; in 1751, 53; in 1760, 74; in 1770, 96; and in 1792, 132.
“Whilst the cotton industry introduced child-slavery in England, it gave in the United States a stimulus to the transformation of the earlier, more or less patriarchal slavery, into a system of commercial exploitation. In fact, the veiled slavery of the wage-workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world …
“ … If money, according to Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”82
We can have a deeper take on Marx’s observations than Marx himself had, because of the added vantage points of the anti-colonial revolutions and the rise of women’s liberation. Early in the 20th century Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish-Jewish revolutionary who was considered among the most brilliant socialist theoreticians in Europe, was trying to understand why euro-capitalism had never collapsed economically as Marx had predicted. Her insight was that the great flow of “free” capital from primitive accumulation had, in fact, never stopped enriching the system.
In her 1912 book, Accumulation of Capital, Rosa Luxemburg argued that euro-capitalism had remained vigorous only through the constant conquest and looting of colonial and semi-colonial peoples, whether inside Europe or “the wretched Indian victims in Putamayo, the Negroes in Africa …”83 Due to Luxemburg’s her-esy, both in being a strong-minded woman and her moving the theoretical focus of anti-capitalist economics outside Europe to the Third World, her insights were ignored among white people for half a century—until European radical feminists recovered her thought.
The neo-colonial class structure is to a large degree unseen, off-screen, hidden not only by global distance but by willful social camouflage. Southern Afrika is an example. Most white people really believe that Afrika is just a vast charity case, of backward peoples who can’t even feed themselves. Now, euro-charities are reporting “burnout,” that even with those glitzy “We Are The World” concerts and videos, white middle-class consumers are tired of giving spare change endlessly to feed Afrikans. Isn’t that true?
Oddly enough, before euro-capitalism came to “aid” Southern Afrika the living standard there was one of basic abundance. Most Afrikans lived better in 1600 than they do now in 1992. Hunger and certainly famine were not common. When the first white explorers and settlers came to Zimbabwe in the 1890s they were shocked—the Afrikans were living better than most people did back in Europe. You can see what an emergency that was, and how capitalism had to send in troops to stop that. Historian T. O. Ranger, writing about the Shona peoples (the broad linguistic-cultural group that is the majority population in Zimbabwe and part of Mozambique), tells us:
“That Shona were everywhere cultivators rather than pastoralists. And their agriculture was a rich one. Over the centuries the Zambezi valley had received crops from outside Africa and diffused them to other areas. By the nineteenth century the Shona could make use of wide variety of crop types. Thus the first white settlers in Melsetter in 1893 listed ‘mealies, poko corn, kafir corn, millet, ground-nuts, beans (five sorts), egg fruit, cabbages, tomatoes, peas, pumpkins of sorts, water-melons, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, chillies, tobacco, bananas and lemons, and all these grown to perfection’. At the same time an early settler in western Mashonaland was describing the successful and varied agriculture of chief Mashiangombi’s people. ‘The path wound through fields of mealies, kafir corn, rukwasza, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, peanuts, and then across rice-beds in the marshes’; cattle and goats were herded; and game abounded to provide further fresh meat. All Shona were involved in this cultivation except specialists in the arts of government and religion. Then men cleared the ground and together with the women planted, weeded and harvested. The young men also hunted, usually in communal groups. This Shona agriculture proved readily capable of expanding to meet the demands of the new white population after 1890 and for the first ten years at least the whites depended upon it for the greater part of their food supply.
“A number of crafts flourished among the Shona—white observers claimed in the 1880s that Shona technical skills were ‘really astonishing’ and that the Shona stood first ‘in the industrial arts of a rudimentary civilization’ of all the tribes south of the Zambezi. Cloth was woven from wild cotton or bark fibre; elaborate and highly ornamented pottery was made; at court centres like Zimbabwe and Khami there developed carving in ivory and soapstone and a skillful use of gold for decorative purposes—gold beads, gold wire, paper-thin gold plates to cover models of animals. The Shona were skilled iron workers and produced hoes, hatchets, spears, arrows, and so on.
“Internal trade was well developed. Shona groups specially skillful in iron working or close to rich deposits of ore would barter iron goods for cloth or tobacco with other Shona peoples … .”84
Now, one hundred years after capitalism arrived in Southem Afrika, hunger and starvation are very real problems. Far from having “developed”, Afrika has in relative world terms slid backwards. The whole of Black Afrika, with its population of over 500 millions, has an annual gross national product or GNP less than that of New York City alone.85 There is a dis-accumulation of capital going on. The reason has to do with raging primitive accumulation in modern form.
We are deeply, intimately involved in Afrika. Much more than we let ourselves know. Because of one of the world’s biggest charities. That charity ball where each year Afrikans have to give billions of dollars worth of goods as gifts to amerikkka. Imperialism runs this charity drive, only it’s Afrikans who are the real givers and most “Americans” who are the real recipients. That is why the u.s. government wants Stepin’ Fetchit singing “We are the World,” why they need all those do-gooding white relief agencies talking that talk about feeding Afrika. To keep hidden the fact that it is amerikkka that feeds on Afrika.
Take South Afrika. Which is easy to read, if you really want to. For isn’t the amerikkkan dream intravenously connected to South Afrika? What is nuclear love without a diamond engagement ring? Millions and millions of bondage insignia with DeBeers diamonds from South Afrika. Isn’t that fitting? The u.s. mint has been selling investment-grade gold coins, the “u.s. eagle.” 80% of the gold in the “eagle” is purchased from the Anglo-American corporation, South Afrika’s largest gold and minerals producer. Uncle Sam, the pimp, wants to help us personally invest in South Afrikan exploitation. Oh, and those exotic flowers at the wedding might have come from South Afrika, too. Cleverly repackaged and transhipped, of course, in Holland and Israel. Even the u.n. in New York, it turns out, has been buying South Afrikan flowers for its lobby.
When you cruise down the expressway in your Japanese car, your Toyota or Nissan or whatever, it doesn’t matter to you that its steel was made from South Afrikan iron ore. It doesn’t matter when you pull up for gasoline at the nearest Shell or Exxon station, that South Afrikan platinum was used in the refining process as a catalyst. Or that the same South Afrikan platinum was needed for your long distance telephone call (to make the fiber optic telephone lines). Or that South Afrikan chromium and vanadium was necessary for the “super-alloy” jet engines that propel your United airliner across the continent at 30,000 feet. Or that the wheat cracker you snack on during the flight was grown with chemical fertilizers that require South Afrikan rare metals as catalysts during production, and harvested with a John Deere combine whose steel body and engine required South Afrikan manganese and chromium.
No, it doesn’t matter to us at all that this way of life has an addiction to Soweto.
According to a u.s. commerce department study, South Afrika supplies 50% of all the platinum used in the u.s., 39% of the manganese, 44% of the vanadium, and 55% of the chromium.86 Reporting on their industrial dependence on African minerals, the N.Y. Times wrote:
“A total lack of these metals would shut down or throttle the steel, automotive, chemical, plastics and petroleum industries. It would halt the production of optical fiber for the communications industry. It would severely hobble the production of food, computer components and weapons.
“The effects on an industrialized nation of a loss of chromium were indicated in a 1978 West German study, which concluded that a shortfall of only 30 percent of the metal for one year would result in a one-quarter reduction of West Germany’s total goods and services.”87
In practical terms, the middle-class way of life, perhaps even the overall living standard, would undergo an instant decompression if deprived of the products of Afrika’s land and labor. Or if they had to pay for them. For capitalism’s secret is that they get it for free. With one exception.
There is no trade here, not even “unequal trade”, for the transaction is all one way. That’s why the labor is slave and semi-slave. In the life of the average South Afrikan worker there is absolutely nothing from far-off amerikkka, with one exception. She raises her children (the next generation’s factory workers, miners and domestics) on the dusty, marginal lands that the white farmers didn’t want, doing a meager subsistence farming. Or else she is a factory worker, or a domestic servant for the settler women, living alone in a tiny shack behind their u.s. style house. Or he is a miner living for a lifetime in a crowded barracks, sleeping on a bare concrete shelf, stacked three high. Their diet is largely grain meal porridge, unleavened baked meal cakes, and some vegetables. Part of the men’s cash is spent on alcohol and tobacco. Real things from amerikka—fancy consumer products and medical technology and cars—are completely beyond their means.
What u.s. society gives them in return for the strategic metals, the gold and diamonds, the outpouring that sustains the neo-imperial way of life is … white people’s old, used, cast-off clothing. That is the only amerikkkan commodity they get. A report on the recent business pages noted:
“‘A guy makes $200 a year, so how can he afford new clothes?’ said Edward Stubin, a used-clothing exporter from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, smiling contentedly. By some estimates one third of the 470 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are walking around in cast-off European and American clothing.”88
Discarded clothing is sold by the pound, ten cent or twenty cent a pound, by the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other businesses that collect them. The exporters then disinfect it, plastic wrap it in 100 pound bales, and ship it all over the Third World to be resold to local merchants and peddlers. This is one of amerikkka’s main exports to the Third World. Across Black Afrika you can see people wearing white peoples’ discarded T-shirts, dresses, jeans, coats, blouses, and pants.
The article mentions that: “Mr Stubin, president of Trans-Americas FSG Inc., ships about 10 million pounds of used clothing a year from New York, mainly to Africa. Even with so big a volume, he considers himself only ‘one of the top 10’ American exporters to Africa.”
They say that Afrika’s strategic metals are “irreplaceable.” It is more truthful to say that the price is right.
Experimental automobile engines made of ceramic instead of high-strength steel work fine, for example, but cost $10,000 a piece. Which is why no one is rushing to buy them yet. Manganese can be mined by dredging up ore nodules from the ocean floor. At great expense, as we can tell from the fact that the French are investing $770 million in just one pilot project to get manganese from the Mediterranean bottom. As for chromium, they can always get all the chromium they need from low-grade ore on the Indian Nations in Montana. At about five to ten times the current cost. As the N.Y. Times pointed out, “One smelter would consume about a million watts of electricity an hour, a staggering expense for the manufacturer or the government.”89
But in South Afrika, these precious commodities are given to imperialism for free. While the u.s. has to pay something for South Afrikan commodities, this has only represented the costs of maintaining the white settler population and their police state, so that capitalism’s reverse charity goes on. In other “independent” Afrikan states, that same cost represents kickbacks to the local Black elite and their police state, so that the charity goes on and on.
There is a simple equation that sums up your intimate relationship with South Afrika. That untangles all the export-import-capital-investment-blah-blah algebra. They, Afrikan workers, give amerikkka their great natural resources and lifetimes of hard labor to make your consuming society work, free of charge, as an involuntary gift. We, on our part, to make the equation balance, give them death and misery. Your way of life only grows like an exotic hothouse vine from their deaths, which is something more intimate than any romance.
When we follow the intravenous connection full of blood between amerikkkan dreams and the dusty streets of Soweto, we descend into an underworld. There, in the lower depths beneath our skyscraper society, we can at last see the vast machinery that burns day and night to support your way of life. The machinery is named genocide. Which is why the real class structure of the world must remain hidden, unseen.
That the postmodern capitalist proletariat is predominantly oppressed women and children is, of course, a her-etical thought, literally unthinkable in the neo-colonized view of the world. To socially camouflage this class formation it has not only been placed over the horizon from white society, but an artificial ideology of work has been implanted in our consciousness. It goes like this: The labor that men do—particularly euro-men—is the important macho work, whether it’s building jet airplanes or designing shopping malls. The labor that women do reproducing the human race, feeding it and clothing it (“light industry”), is feminine and less important, economically very secondary. The labor that children do in this false consciousness is invisible and trivial, so insignificant it can be completely brushed aside and need not even be considered as part of the world economy. Forgotten completely. For children, after all, are even less “real” humans than women are.
When we said that the class structure of the neo-colonial world is like the 19th century industrial euro-capitalism as Marx analyzed it, only expanded a thousand times to a world scale, we weren’t just speaking metaphorically. Marx, for example, spent many pages in his major work, Capital, describing the importance of children’s labor to industrial capitalism. Children who were, he makes clear, really slaves sold into bondage by their families or “guardians.” He was particularly indignant that these children, the least powerful persons in society, were knowingly forced into dangerous and toxic industries as cheap and disposable slave labor:
“The manufacture of lucifer matches dates from 1833, from the discovery of the method of applying phosphorus to the match itself. Since 1845 this manufacture has rapidly developed in England, and has extended especially amongst the thickly populated parts of London as well as in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Norwich, Newcastle and Glasgow. With it has spread the form of lockjaw, which a Vienna physician in 1845 discovered to be a disease peculiar to lucifer-matchmakers. Half the workers are children under thirteen, and young persons under eighteen. The manufacture is on account of its unhealthiness and unpleasantness in such bad odor that only the most miserable part of the labouring class, half-starved widows and so forth, deliver up their children to it, ‘the ragged, half-starved, untaught children.’
“Of the witnesses that Commissioner White examined (1863), 270 were under 18, 50 under 10, 10 only 8, and 5 only 6 years old. A range of the working-day from 12 to 14 or 15 hours, night-labour, irregular meal-times, meals for the most part taken in the very workrooms that are pestilent with phosphorus. Dante would have found the worst horrors of his Inferno surpassed in this manufacture.”90
Isn’t it good that capitalist civilization has moved beyond these criminal relations of production, and that matchstick production is now done in safely automated factories? That is everyone’s metropolitan assumption, although no one you ask will actually know how matches are made. From a news dispatch out of New Delhi, India—not in 1889 but 1989:
“These are the dark ages for millions of children in Southeast Asia who eat slop, sleep in hovels, and work in dim, airless factories. They are slaves—illiterate, intimidated, ruthlessly exploited.
“Eleven year-old Chinta, from India’s Tamil Nadu state, rides a company bus to a matchstick factory before dawn and makes 40 cents for a ten-hour shift.
“‘Some of the children have the breathing sickness and eye disease because of the chemicals,’ she said.
“Uma Shankun, 12, weaves exquisite Persian carpets in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for Western buyers. His mother and two sisters [also] work in the factory to help pay off the family’s $30 loan, taken after his father died.
“Uma said they tried to escape once, but were beaten.
“More than 20 million children in Southeastern Asia are in ‘chains of servitude’ and millions more are working in conditions similar to slavery, a conference on child servitude concluded this month.
“Most of them are outcasts or untouchables, tribal or religious minorities.
“They are ‘non-beings, exiles of civilization, living a life worse than that of animals,’ P. N. Bhagwati, India’s former chief justice, told the conference.
“The cheap labor that developing countries tout to lure foreign investment is often a child’s, human rights campaigner Krishnaiyer told the conference.”91
These 20 million child slaves in Southeast Asia are not merely exploited, they are involuntary laborers, physically held in bondage by some capitalist they have been sold to or are in perpetual debt to. The word “slave” is used literally and exactly here.
At Macy’s department store in Manhattan, investigators found five square yard Moroccan carpets bearing the proud label, “Made in Morocco exclusively for R.H. Macy’s.” But who actually made this carpet? It turns out that her name is Hiyat and she is 11 years old.
“RABAT—Perched on a low wooden bench in front of a loom, cutting knife at her side, Hiyat is an automaton with whirring hands.
“At the age of 11, Hiyat knots rugs six days a week in a concrete box where 200 weavers hunch elbow to elbow at hand looms. Forty years ago carpet weaving was a handicraft that little Moroccan girls learned at home from their mothers. Now it is big business and little girls as young as 4 work in factories.
“Loop, wrap, pull, slice. Loop, wrap, slice. Hiyat would have to tie one strand of woolen pile onto the loom every 2.43 seconds to keep up with what her supervisor says is the factory’s pace of knotting. The monotony tears on her. ‘I wanted to stay in school,’ she said, ‘not work here.’
“The factory that hired her, Mocary SA, is part of a global shame. Tens of thousands of well-to-do employers throughout the Third World work children for pennies an hour in mind-blunting or dangerous jobs. Others make money by maneuvering children into criminal work, turning homeless boys into street thieves or 13 year-old girls into prostitutes.
“We prefer to get them when they are about seven,” said Nasser Yebbous, the overseer of one plant in Marrakesh. Children’s hands are nimbler, he said. “And their eyes are better, too. They are faster when they are small.”92
Under piecework rates, Hiyat earns at most 15 cents an hour in Morocco. Halfway around the world, Eliza Lualhati, 15, says she earns about 13 cents an hour for piecemeal work at a high-speed sewing machine in a live-in garment factory in a suburb of Manila. Eliza doesn’t complain about working 90 to 110 hours a week. But she said she wishes the boss wouldn’t make her pay for the thread.
Eliza’s routine six days a week at the War Win’s Style shirt factory goes like this: Wake up at 6 a.m. on a pile of cloth scraps beside her sewing machine. Make breakfast. Sweep the sewing room floor. Then:
“We start sewing exactly at 7 a.m. We usually get a break around noon. It lasts maybe two hours, but only half an hour if we are on a rush. We start up again for the afternoon and work until about 7 p. m. We stop for about half an hour for dinner.
“Then we start sewing again. Usually until midnight. Sometimes it is until 3 a.m. In December, we go right on through, just taking a catnap. ”
The factory owner, Josie Cruz, sounded compassionate. “Sometimes they get ill,” she said. “Some of them have suffered anemia from lack of sleep. ”
But Cruz said if she wants to succeed in the garment business, she has no choice. “We have a strict shipping schedule,” she said. “If we fail to deliver, there will be no work to be done for the next two weeks. So whenever there is a rush order, they know they have to finish, even if they have to work 23 hours a day.”
Wages are even lower in Thailand, where thousands of young peasant girls work seven days a week inside hole-in-the-wall Bangkok factories called “shophouses” for less than seven cents an hour …”Sometimes I don’t get a day off for weeks,” said Sarapa Nasap, who wraps toy Uzi machine guns in a plastics factory in Bangkok.
Sarapa, 15, said she is paid a monthly salary of $20, plus a bonus of 20 cents each night she works later than 10 p. m. Spread out over the 70 to 90 hours a week she says she works, her pay would average six cents an hour.
Among nine Bangkok sweatshop children whom reporters succeeded in interviewing away from their bosses, the pay ranged from 3 to 16 cents an hour.
The live-in factory system is such an accepted part of Thailand’s labor patterns that it didn’t embarrass one of Sarapa’s bosses to talk about the arrangements.
“If we give them meals, then we can control them very easily,” said Komol Trairattanapa, export manager of Siam Asian Enterprises Ltd.
When euro-amerikkkans hear these facts, they oh and ah in pretended surprise and pity. And then forget about it that minute. “It’s shocking,” people say, or “It’s a disgrace that these countries don’t protect their children.” But really, it’s just your daily life, just the only way that your capitalism has ever done business from day one. It’s no more unusual or shocking than the fact that for a white woman to go to medical school and become a doctor, several Afrikkan women must die to pay for it.
We put it that way deliberately, to bring your mind up short. White women in particular assume that their careers are only a positive thing for the world. But since white culture doesn’t support itself, doesn’t produce its own daily necessities, every breath that white women take costs somebody else something. Revolutionary women have pointed out that the food white women eat was taken from a Third World woman’s mouth; the clothing their children wear was taken from a Third World child’s back. Since it costs over $200,000 a year above and beyond that to educate a u.s. medical student, many women in the Third World must be robbed of necessities of life to pay the bill. White men don’t pay it, that’s for sure.
Then, too, white women join a euro-capitalist medical industry that has always fed off the suffering of Third World women. The “great” pioneer of u.s. gynecology, Dr. James Marion Sims of Montgomery, Alabama, developed his operation curing vesico vaginal fistula (caused by torn tissue during childbirth) by experimenting on Afrikan slave women. By the time he succeeded in 1849, Dr. Sims had operated on one slave woman (whose owner had named her “Anarcha”) some thirty times. Thirty times—can you picture what that was for her? In our lifetimes, “the pill” for birth control was first tested for dosages and side-effects on some 15,000 unknowing Puerto Rican women. Just as when French AIDS researchers, working with the u.s. National Institutes of Health, wanted to test a hoped-for AIDS vaccine for safety, they flew to Zaire and injected healthy Afrikan children with their concoction.
We must reject the ideology of euro-charities and social work bureaucracies that children are special, are somehow precious and must be protected. Whenever anyone says that, how this group or that group is special and needs protecting, that only means that they own you. That only means that you’re property. When they’re free, animals don’t need the SPCA. Check it out.
In the capitalist world order every national government is supposed to protect its citizens, men are supposed to protect women, and adults are supposed to protect children. But nowhere in the world is this true. The supposed need to “protect” is really the ideological justification for keeping you powerless so you can be abused and exploited. Children aren’t special, aren’t precious, like patriarchal capitalism likes to pretend; they’re just people.
Remember when vp Dan Quayle attacked the tv character Murphy Brown for being an unwed mother. The next day his staff flew him to California, so he could hold a press conference in a captive barrio junior high school to talk his “family values” lies. Afterwards, one Chicana student in that classroom told the media:“I don’t want to bag the vice-president or anything, but he has a mentality just like mine only I’m 14 years old. Which would you rather have, a single mother or a father who gets drunk and beats your mother?”
Millions could see that this 14 year old Chicana was infinitely more qualified to lead society than the u.s. vice-president. She doesn’t need the Dan Quayles (or their women) to “protect” her. She and others simply need power over their own lives.
World capitalism maintains thousands of organizations and institutions to regulate and repress its human property, ranging from the so-called Right to Life movement to the departments of children and family services, all the way up to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the u.n. agency supposedly “protecting” the world’s children.
UNICEF’s real mission is to promote favorable conditions for child slave and semi-slave labor for capitalism in the Third World. Which is why it was no surprise that in 1987 the president of the UNICEF committee in Belgium was forced to resign after it was revealed that the men in his group, including the 63 year-old director, Jos Verbeeck, were running an international child pornography business in UNICEF’s Brussel’s headquarters. Children were used in sex, photographed and videoed, by what police described as “a major child sex ring” operating out of UNICEF.93
That same year, 1987, by no coincidence, UNICEF published a glossy book detailing The State of the World’s Children, 1987. There was not so much as one word on the millions of child slave and semi-slave laborers. Not one slave-owner was named, not one major u.s. corporation was exposed, not one slave-master nation was named. It was all whited-out.94
Instead, UNICEF emphasized its mass health projects, like vaccination campaigns and oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea. These inexpensive projects are saving the lives of millions of Third World children who might otherwise die too soon to swell capitalism’s giant labor pool of surplus Third World children. This is why capitalism has UNICEF—not to “protect” children but as part of its world personnel department.
While the false ideology of work implanted in our consciousness keeps us thinking that child labor, like women’s labor, is secondary and marginal, it is a basic necessity to capitalism as a system. Just as slavery is. Since 1950 the labor pool of child workers and potential workers has more than doubled, cresting over 1.1 billion between the ages of 5–14 years old in 1987.95 In 1986 the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that there were 88 million children employed in the world labor force. In that figure the ILO did not include any children under age 11, children doing piecework at home, or those “informally” employed as farm workers, street peddlers, garbage scavengers, criminals, and prostitutes. If all those child workers were included, a UNICEF staff paper admitted, “the estimate would run into the hundreds of millions.”
“Hundreds of millions.” Capitalism’s false ideology of work keeps telling us that adult male workers in major nations are what’s really important, while child labor is an economically unimportant fringe activity. However, it turns out that a continental industrial power like the u.s.a. has under 165,000 adult male steelworkers—while there are “hundreds of millions” of child laborers in the Third World.
We can see why this world class structure is so hidden.
Let’s go back to the scene of the crime, to Macy’s—and Hiyat. For weaving that five square yard rug for Macy’s, 11 year-old Hiyat received about $19.34 from her adult bosses at Mocary SA. That represents almost three weeks of labor for her. They in turn sold the rug to Macy’s in Manhattan for $166.40, keeping, quite obviously, a healthy little profit for themselves. Macy’s then paid shipping companies, insurance companies, and u.s. customs duties for that rug of $50.84, for a total cost to them of $217.24. Macy’s then added their own markup of well over 100% to get a final retail “sale” price of $499.
What must be kept off screen is this entire class structure in which the Hiyats and the Afrikan workers in Soweto, the Caribbean women making N.B.A. basketballs, blouses and a myriad of other u.s. products, the homeless agricultural laborers in Chile stocking u.s. supermarkets, are the source of the great wealth of the metropolis. It is their unseen lives that are stolen to sustain the neo-imperial civilization. Just as the often told glories of Imperial Rome were but a shell, an artifice of parasitism over the life labors of uncounted millions of their slave laborers.
As we bring into light this class structure, the category of Hiyat’s child labor merges into that of women’s labor. In the same way, the “veiled slavery” of semi-slave wage labor clearly is close to “slavery pure and simple,” is really part of the same process. And what we think of as the crisis of oppressed Third World nations rises up most sharply as the crisis of an oppressed gender. Because all these separate categories are but sides of the hidden life of one class, the postmodern industrial proletariat. Which is today emerging as the most important class in the world.
To triangulate the path of the shockwave that is reorganizing everything around us, we need to go back to the periphery, to the oppressed world and the class changes taking place there.
Capitalism’s need to proletarianize women and children on a world scale is by its very nature a vast human enterprise. Once, after all, to exploit North Amerika, to conquer the Indian Nations and stand guard over millions of Afrikan slave laborers, required a counterweight of millions and then tens of millions of people loyal to euro-capitalism. This class counterweight took the form of an artificial white race and a white settler nation. To exploit and hold down hundreds of millions of women and children workers spread over a hundred and fifty countries, transnational capitalism requires an even larger counterweight. And now, what is class is cast in the form of gender and disguised as “natural.” The counterweight is male society.
The blindspot in middle-class white feminism is that it always breaks short of bringing the feminist spotlight of theoretical analysis home, of completing it. Undercovering the secret relationship between the transformation in Third World women’s condition and the transformation in their own. With that gap, the misimpression is left that white women in amerikkka have the same gender relationship to capitalism that Third World women do, supposedly differing only in degree by being a bit less oppressed.
In this relationship, finance capital is the chain—not merely between nations or between rich vs. poor—between women of the periphery and women of the metropolis. Finance capital has a lot to do, it turns out, with transformation of gender today.
What may be hard to see at home, close up, jumps into our eyes when we stand back and view the entire neo-colonial empire. Brazil is an example of the new industrialization of the Third World (we could have chosen South Afrika or China or the Persian Gulf, as well). What is so striking compared to the colonial past is the development of macho industries once monopolized by the metropolis.
Armored cars, armored personnel carriers and tanks for capitalist armies used to be exports from FMC or Cadillac-Gage in the u.s. or Vickers in England. Today, the Engesa company in Brazil is the largest exporter in the West of such military vehicles. Its export sales in 1985 were $600 million. Over 5,000 Brazilian Engesa armored cars and troop carriers are in use by the armies of Chile, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, the People’s Republic of China, and other nations. “We now produce 50 percent of all wheeled military vehicles made in the Free World today,” Jose Luiz Whitalcer Ribeiro, the owner of Englesa, has boasted.96
Brazil is the fifth largest arms exporter (and has the eighth-largest industrial economy) in the world. Its inexpensive Tauras handguns, from pocket deuce-deuces to copies of the 9mm beretta, sell well in white gunshops, while Britain’s Royal Air Force purchased 130 Brazilian Tucano jet trainers. The Brazilian arms industry at its peak in the 1980s employed over 100,000 workers, producing simple, less expensive military hardware for mostly Third World armies.
Obviously, a nation that can design and manufacture its own missiles, machine guns, tanks and jets is no longer underdeveloped in the old colonial sense. Yet, transnational capitalism and the u.s. remain serenely unworried about this emerging industrial “competition.” The u.s. government has even encouraged and aided Brazil’s arms industry—and Brazilian export sales in general. Over protests from u.s. suppliers and rivals, Washington approved the sales to u.s. commuter airlines of the Brazilian Bandeirante turboprop passenger plane, as well as the regular flow of Brazilian oranges for Minutemaid and other u.s. frozen juice corporations. Appeals from Kansas aircraft manufacturers, Connecticut arms makers, and Florida growers were ignored by Federal regulators and trade officials.
The simple reason is that these Brazilian corporations, while certainly enriching Brazil’s small capitalist class, are even more profitable than u.s. corporations are for Western finance capital. The $1 billion a year that Brazil earned during the 1980s exporting arms only made a connecting flight to Brazil before homing to its true owners in New York and London, Zurich and Bonn. Brazil, which was indebted to the Western banks to the tune of $104 billion at last count, during the 1980s was sending them 5% of its gross national product each year (equivalent to 23% of all its domestic savings) just to make the interest payments.97 The “debt crisis” was merely the breakdown of Brazil’s economy and society under the intolerable burden.
In the colonial era, the white metropolis held a tight monopoly on industrialization and technology. Now, in the neo-colonial empire, finance capital encourages industry in the Third World up to and including nuclear technology, because the profits from this industrialization simply flow back to them as debt repayments.
Under this reign of finance capital, the u.s. has become not only parasitic but a usurer society, caring mainly that the nations of the oppressed world remain its debt slaves, perpetually laboring without payment. Transnational capitalism cares about its exports of products to the Third World (now 35% of all u.s. exports and rising), but even more important is the export of capital.
While a popular racism is maintained that the oppressed world is the net receiver of billions and billions of dollars from the metropolis in the form of “aid” and easy credit, the stark truth is that they are net givers. Each year they are as a whole poorer, sending amerikkka more goods and dollars than they have received. The more a Brazil or a Mexico industrializes, the poorer the majority of its people are. This is why these nations are debt slaves to the empire of a new type. A 1988 report on the “debt crisis” revealed:
“ … Lending to Latin America has in fact been phenomenally profitable for most banks and syndicators, yielding returns on equity of 50 percent or more per year. In fact, if we treat and interests above ordinary profit rates as a return on principal, our banks have already been more fully paid back by the countries …
“In retrospect this has not been cheap. From 1983 to 1988, for example, Mexico forked over about $33 billion in interest to its foreign creditors, while receiving back only $13 billion in net new foreign loans … In Mexico itself, the distribution of this debt burden has been extremely inequitable. First, there are few productive assets to show for all the debts … Many Mexicans now actually have lower per capita incomes than in the early 1970s, before the borrowing spree began.”
What finance capital does is really loan sharking. Oppressed nations find that they’re paying the u.s. banks back two or three times what they’ve borrowed—and still owe the “principal” or original debt. Like the crack dealer who “loans” his addict-customer $5 in dope but demands $10 repayment the next day. The dealer isn’t doing anything that the big bankers aren’t doing, only the later are sharking entire nations.
Brazil, the neo-colony of this new empire, is in crucial ways un-developing as a coherent society the more it becomes an industrial hell. In the poverty-stricken rural Northeast, 1987 saw the first outbreak of bubonic plague, the dreaded Black Death that claimed tens of millions of lives in Europe’s Middle Ages. Another medieval disease, leprosy, has also grown to epidemic levels in Brazil, with more than 250,000 leprosy victims. “We are seeing a general deterioration,” said Dr. Delosmar Mendonca, public health official in Joao Pessoa. Records kept at the University of Recife prove that because of “chronic malnutrition” children in the 1980s were being born with smaller heads and less development than before. “We are moving toward a generation of dwarfs,” Dr. Mendonca said.98
Neo-colonialism is not the end of colonialism, then, but its continuation on a higher level of world development; literally meaning a “new and different” colonialism. In the same way, the industrial proletariat whose core is women and children has from its origins centuries ago always been a colonized class and this is even more true now that it has become a world class. A class that is colonized not by gender alone, but by the fusion of race and nation as well.
In her provocative book, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, Cynthia Enloe points out how the new wave of capitalist industrialization of the Third World takes the form of gender-specific industries which are only “traditional” to euro-capitalism. There is macho industry (“heavy industry”), such as aviation, steel, chemicals, shipbuilding, arms, as well as government civil service and the mercenary military, which employ men.
And then there is feminine industry (“light industry”), such as textiles, electronics, garments, shoemaking, agricultural harvesting, food processing, tourism, consumer goods, and data entry (u.s. banks and insurance companies have their data put on magnetic tape everywhere from Beijing to Ireland to the Dominican Republic), which employ mostly women and children.
Macho industry employs fewer workers and is often unprofitable—being capital intensive it requires those massive billions in Western bank loans—but is nevertheless said to be the most important for new patriarchal nations and pays the highest wages. Much of it, including the mercenary military and police, the State bureaucracy, and “prestige” industries like aviation and shipbuilding, are non-productive in terms of the needs of society. The most important effect of macho industry, however, is to subsidize stratas and classes of men to be the owners of women.
Feminine industry employs most workers and is the main source of both profit and socially necessary goods, but pays far less, of course. By giving industry a gender—as they once gave slave agriculture a race—capitalism can throw a veil over the extreme exploitation and semi-slavery of its women and children workers. Cynthia Enloe comments:
“Organizing factory jobs, designing machinery and factory rules to keep women productive and feminine—these were crucial strategies in Europe’s industrial growth. Industrialized textile production and garment-making were central to Britain’s global power. Both industries feminized labor in order to make it profitable and internationally competitive. Other countries learned the British lesson in order to compete in the emerging global political economy and to stave off foreign control.
“The making of the ‘mill girl’ proved crucial. American textile investors travelled from Boston to England to learn the formula in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Japanese entrepreneurs, backed by their government’s Meiji reforms to resist Western colonization, also chose young rural women as their first industrial workers. In industrializing Tsarist Russia, owners of new textile factories steadily increased the proportion of women workers, with government approval. In the pre-World War I period gendered formulas for factory-fueled capitalism seemed to be traded as energetically as railroad stocks. Neither war nor revolution has done much to transform the feminizing strategies used by both capitalist and socialist garment-factory managers.”99
To paraphrase Marx, the veiled slavery of women and children wage workers in the new industrial zones requires as its pedestal the naked slavery of women as the social property of men. While Enloe’s insights into devaluing women’s work can be misread as being about mere discrimination, the root of this devaluation is that no slave-owning society expects its slaves to have real income of their own.
The majority of the productive work done by the human race is, in fact, unwaged labor performed under duress by women and children. Not only raising crops and providing cooking, laundry, cleaning and sexual services to men, but in maintaining a community and reproducing physically and socially the next generation of workers, women’s unwaged labor is such an absolute necessity to male society that it is considered part of Nature along with forests and oceans and rainfall. The rightful bounty of men to share or fight over. All waged labor rests upon the greater foundation of women’s unwaged labor. This is why outlines of class structure based solely upon waged labor aren’t accurate. No more than they would have been in the Old Slave South.
Cynthia Enloe points out:
“As South Korean government officials were bidding to have their country chosen as the site of the 1988 Olympics, some commentators were talking about the ‘two Koreas’. They didn’t mean North and South. They were referring to the South Korea of large, capitalized heavy industries and the South Korea of the back-alley garment workshop. In 1988 women made up an estimated two-thirds of workers in South Korea’s world famous export-oriented factories. They were working more hours per week than their male counterparts and being paid on average one third less, producing clothes, electronics, shoes and data services—industries that enabled South Korean businessmen to accumulate enough capital to launch their own companies. Those Korean women factory workers who went on strike in the 1980s to bring down the authoritarian military government were protesting against both the myth of the successful South Korea and the price that South Korean factory women were expected to pay to sustain that myth.”100
Keying back to “Blade Runner”: one of the underlying truths in the movie’s subtext is that capitalism does raise up whole new classes to meet its economic needs by making new races and genders. But also, when these classes become obsolete to its needs or too dangerous—threatening slave rebellions—capitalism is prepared not only to repress them, but to transform or even eliminate them in their millions. This is the battleground of our time and place.
76 Samir Amin. “The Class Structure of the Contemporary World.” Monthly Review. January. 1980
77 Christopher Hill. The Making of Modern English Society. Vol. I. Reformation to Industrial Revolution. 1530–1780. N.Y. 1967. pp. 215–216
78 Christopher Hill. The Making of Modern English Society. Vol. I. Reformation to Industrial Revolution. 1530–1780. N.Y. 1967. pp. 215–216
79 Karl Marx. Capital. Vol. I. N.Y. 1967 p. 761 (International Publishers)
80 Hill pp. 64–65
81 Capital. Vol I. N.Y. 1967 pp. 394–397
82 Capital. pp. 759–760
83 see: Raya Dunayevskaya. Rosa Luxenburg. Women’s Liberation & Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. Urbana 1991 (University of Illinois Press)
84 T.O. Ranger. “The Nineteenth Century in Southern Rhodesia.” In Southern African Politics. N.Y. 1967. pp. 113–114
85 Salim Lone. “Afterward, Make Africa A Priority.” New York Times. February 3, 1991
86 Jonathan P. Hicks. “Study Shows U.S. Reliance on South African Metals.” New York Times. August 25, 1985
87 Malcolm W. Browne. “Fearing Instability, West Seeks to Replace Minerals From South Africa.” New York Times. July 15, 1986
88 James Brooke. “Used U.S. Clothes a Bestseller in Africa.” New York Times. February 16, 1987
89 Browne. op. cit.
90 Capital. Vol I. p. 246
91 Bill Tarrant. “Millions of children live as ‘slaves’ in Asia.” Washington Times. July 14, 1989
92 Joseph Albright & Marcial Kunstel. “Child Labor: the Profits of Shame.” Washington Post. July 12, 1987
93 “UNICEF Official Quits Amid Sex Scandal.” Reuters dispatch. The Sun. June 24, 1987
94 By 1991, UNICEF'S annual State of the World's Children report finally spent a page admitting children were exploited as semi-slave labor, but said that they were "helpless" to do anything about it. Again, no corporations, religions, or governments were named.
95 Joseph Albright & Marcial Kunstel. “Child Labor: the Profits of Shame.” Washington Post. July 12, 1987
96 Alan Riding. “Brazil’s Burgeoning Arms Industry.” New York Times. November 3, 1985
97 Alan Riding. “For Brazilian, U.S. Trip Marks Surge in Status.” New York Times. September 7, 1986
98 Maruse Simons. “Brazil Health Crisis …” New York Times. February 13, 1987
99 Cynthia Enloe. Bananas, Beaches & Bases. Berkeley 1990. p. 160 (University California Berkeley Press)
100 Cynthia Enloe. Bananas, Beaches & Bases. Berkeley 1990. p. 168 (University California Berkeley Press)